In Contrast to Cubs’ Likely Offseason Strategy, Mets Indeed Look Like Spenders

The Cubs didn’t have any really difficult decisions when it came to exercising team options, as everyone had predicted they’d decline those on Jon Lester and Daniel Descalso while picking up the $16.5 million for Anthony Rizzo. And though a few of us might have been sweating that latter one just a wee bit, it’s still possible for team and player to work something out that lowers Rizzo’s CBT hit for this season. Lester could be back as well on a highly reduced deal.

Descalso, on the other hand, will not be returning to the Cubs in any capacity. I know that news probably hits some of you really hard, so please take all the time you need to compose yourself before continuing.

Everything should be relatively quiet for the next couple of days as free agency officially opens. There’s something else happening soon if I recall, and I’m guessing it’ll get a little more publicity than whatever minor moves are made around MLB. With most teams actively looking to reduce payroll, it’s unlikely we’ll see anything splashy going down until much later in the offseason.

If there’s one team likely to jump the market and go big right out of the gate, however, it’s the Mets under new owner Steve Cohen. Not only will he be looking to make a statement as he takes over, but his estimated $14.6 billion net worth is more than three times that of MLB’s next wealthiest owner and he doesn’t need to bother trying to cry poor.

Cohen’s first order of business was to reinstate the full salaries of employees, “including unionized groundskeepers, security guards, and engineers,” whose pay had been cut due to COVID-19. That commitment is valued at $7 million. He is also creating a seasonal employee relief fund for the approximately 1,000 employees who work at Citi Field as employees of sub-contractors, who would be eligible to receive $500 per month from November 1 to Opening Day, a commitment of around $2.5 million.

What’s more, Cohen is donating $17.5 million to programs designed to help local small businesses with grants and has plans to dramatically increase giving through the Mets Foundation. Sure sounds like he’s singing a decidedly different tune from the chorus his colleagues have been practicing for the last several months.

The first clue to the Mets’ potential spending this winter is their extension of the qualifying offer to righty Marcus Stroman, who didn’t play in 2020 after opting out. Though the expectation among many is that Stroman will decline the offer in favor of free agency, the likely suppression of salaries might make a one-year, $18.9 million contract a decent bet.

That would represent more than a 50% increase on the $12 million Stroman agreed to back in January to avoid arbitration in his final year of eligibility, though it’s obviously far less than he’ll be able to earn in total with a long-term deal. While the QO itself is far from crippling for a team, it can be a lot to spend on a single year for a player, particularly in these times.

The Mets were under this year’s $208 million luxury tax threshold by about $17 million and are projected to have around $74 million in space for 2021, so they can make a few moves should they desire. That almost certainly means targeting the biggest names out there, like JT Realmuto, George Springer, and maybe even Trevor Bauer in order to turn themselves into immediate contenders at a time when their opponents might be pulling back on the reins.

That brings us around to the Cubs, who are more likely to be shopping in the scratch-and-dent aisle for some bargains as players are non-tendered or options are not picked up. There’s a lot of inherent risk in that strategy, as we’ve seen from the likes of Descalso and others over the last two seasons, but the low cost mitigates some or all of that from a business perspective.

Old friend Tommy La Stella would be an exception to that rule, as he’s coming off of solid performances with the Angels and Athletics and is reportedly on the Cubs’ radar as a contact bat for a swing-and-miss lineup. There could be some other possibilities out there, including some players who might not otherwise have been realistic targets. Elite lefty reliever Brad Hand cleared waivers, meaning no team was willing to pay his $10 million option for 2021. While I think someone else will pay him more than the Cubs are willing to, he’d be a bargain at that cost.

Then there’s Corey Kluber, whose option was not picked up by the Rangers after he managed just a single inning due to a grade 2 teres major tear (shoulder muscle) in his first start. A fractured right arm suffered in May of 2019 limited him to just 35.2 innings last season, so Kluber, who will turn 35 in April, has a lot less mileage than you’d expect at this point.

The Yankees look like an early frontrunner due to some anecdotal connections there, but the Cubs have said they’ll add starting pitching depth from outside the organization and maybe the former Cy Young winner would come cheap. Though I can’t envision the Cubs actually working something out with Kluber, it’s still fun to think about.

One potential target a whole lot of nostalgic Cubs fans would dig is to bring Chris Archer back into the organization, though it’d have to be on a minor league deal. The righty didn’t pitch in 2020 due to thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, which is incredibly difficult to come back from, and he wasn’t very good during his time with the Pirates. He’s also 32 now, no longer the young pup he always seemed to be with the Rays. Archer is a free agent after having his option declined by Pittsburgh, so some team will probably give him a chance as a reclamation project.

There are dozens of other players to whom the Cubs will be connected, either through speculation or silly rumors, but this year should be different from the past couple in that we all know the big names are out of the question. I mean, most of us may have known that before, it’s just that there still existed this weird little glimmer of hope that maybe something would change.

And hey, maybe you’d prefer to cup your hands over that guttering flame to keep it alive a little longer. Go for it if that’s your jam. All I know is that it’s weird as hell to be sitting here stanning the em-effing Mets and wishing the Cubs and other organizations would be more like them. What a time to be alive.

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